Nue stood on the bridge of the strange pirate ship. She’d just finished routing the flight plan from Port Nicca to Keagan, a planet she had never heard of before. But the cyborg had given her the planet’s solar system, so it wasn’t too hard to find.
Rannn stood silently next to her like he usually did. But this time, she felt him staring. He had never done that before. At least that she knew of. Removing her hands from the Minky screen, she asked, “Yes, Captain?”
“Are you done?”
“Come with me,” he instructed with a tone that sounded as if he were disappointed in her. She could think of nothing she’d done to upset him. She had been following every rule, and against her better judgement, keeping her mouth shut.
Nothing should have raised his ire.
Unless he’d found out.
Swallowing, she slid her fingers into her pocket to touch the Minky pad. If she needed to make a run for it, she could. And she could easily re-route a lifepod back to Port Nicca.
From what Lita had told her, it sounded like a nice planet with Kinglings.
Rannn had led her out of the bridge, down the hall and stairs, and into the docking bay where the 817 galleon luxury liner was stationed. He walked into the ship and took the stairs to the bridge, but instead of going there, he followed the hall back into his rooms. Nue’s stomach dropped.
Why did he want her inside his cabin?
She understood why she’d had to stay in there when the deadly shadow was on board, but why did he want her there now? There was no reason for it. She liked her own space.
She didn’t walk in. She wasn’t stupid.
“I don’t see any reason why I need to go in there.”
His nose flared. “Are you accusing me of trying to rape you?”
But…she didn’t want to be in his room, either. “I just think that whatever you have to say, can be said somewhere else.”
“At no time in my life, have I ever touched a female against her will.” Rannn hissed the last part.
Holding up her hands, she tried to pacify him. “I am not saying you have, or that you want to do that. But I don’t want to go into your cabin.”
He was quiet and thoughtful for a second, his voice still raw with anger. “Unless there is something in this room that will cause you bodily or mental harm, then I order you to get inside. Now.”
She exhaled, knowing that she’d pissed him off good this time. As soon as she was through the door, it slid closed behind her. Rannn stood in the middle of the room. He reached over and tapped his Minky screen, and it blinked from black to white.
Lots of words filled the screen, but she didn’t need to read them. Her name was displayed in bold letters inside the subject bar.
It was a message to Rannn from someone she didn’t know.
“Remember when I asked you why your profile wasn’t complete?”
“Yes,” she whispered, knowing that Rannn knew.
“This is a message from the academy admiral, stating he has no idea who you are. I have another message from the academy admiral on Verrain, where you were shipped from, and he has never heard of you either.”
Nue didn’t say a word. Not one. Her whole body froze in fear. He knew, and he was pissed.
“So then, I kept looking and found a transfer order from Marnak to Debsa with your name on it. But there was no received transfer from Debsa. Which means, you’re a fugitive that forged transfer paperwork.”
Not even close. Nue hadn’t falsified anything. But she was a fugitive, so it wasn’t worth arguing the details.
He stepped forward. “Do you have anything you want to tell me?”
She shook her head.
“Are you sure?”
She lowered her eyes.
“I contacted Debsa and asked for your file. It said you were charged for the murder of an innocent male. Motive, his non-federation ID, and whatever was in his accounts.”
What? Nue looked up, confused. “I didn’t kill anyone.”
“Really? Because that’s what the Federation file says.”
“I didn’t kill anyone. And I didn’t steal his money.” How could her file have gotten so messed up—wait a minute?
Her twin sister must have killed the guy, and since they were identical…ugh. Stupid sister.
Rannn’s lip curled. “You didn’t steal his money? Sounds like you know exactly who I’m talking about. Was he someone that pissed you off? Wronged you?”
“I don’t know who he is. And your telepath should be able to confirm that,” she seethed. Why wasn’t the nosey bastard telling Rannn that it had been Nova and not her?
Nue had been charged with a crime, but not murder. More importantly, she had been on this reckless mission for how long now? And the captain had the audacity to believe that she’d killed some random guy to steal his money? Did she even look the type?
How dare he?
Her blood went from ice-cold to burning-hot.
“Sci confirmed that you are not who you say you are. He said you’re a convicted felon.”
Oh, she was. But again, not a murderer.
She had to take a few deep breaths to keep her voice from cracking. “Yes, I was convicted and sentenced to Debsa. But I didn’t kill anyone.”
Rannn’s jaw flexed before he said, “The second we get back on Garna, the star carrier, I will make sure you are returned to where you are supposed to be.”
Nue was so mad, she was numb.
Pointing a crooked finger in her face, he said, “You’re going to stay in this cabin until we get back to Garna.” Rannn reached up and touched the Minky screen again and logged himself out. “I have terminated your Federation ID. You are to have no contact with anyone. And I am locking you inside this room until this mission is complete.”
The mission she’d helped with. The one that wouldn’t have progressed this far without her.
The ungrateful bastard.
“Do you understand? You will not leave. You will serve your time.”
“I didn’t kill anyone,” Nue snipped, feeling the rise of self-righteous anger within her.
Shaking his head, Rannn walked past her. “You disappoint me. All this time, you’ve lied to my face,” he said in a hushed voice as if she had done something unforgivable.
She whirled around and watched him leave, wishing she had something breakable to throw at his big Yunkin head. Once the portal shut, she closed her eyes and held in a scream.
How dare Rannn tell her that? She disappointed him? She was the one being falsely accused of murder by a male who’d killed an entire ship full of pirates.
Yunkins and their damn double standards.
She hated them. All of them. Not one had ever been honorable. And just because she was in the mood to hate, she hated the Cerebral too for not telling Rannn the truth.
Nue sat on top of the blanket with her back resting against the wall. She was thankful the bombs had stopped blasting, but that didn’t ease her fears. Was the ship damaged? Was it over, or was this only a pause before someone burst into the cabin and dragged her out like the last pirates had?
She tried not to look at the door with anger and trepidation. Rannn, the hateful Yunkin, had locked her inside and then didn’t bother to update her on anything. Were they safe? Was the mission complete?
She needed to know what was going on.
The door opened, and she jumped in her seat. The tall, pale-skinned Yunkin walked in with disheveled hair, eyes that weren’t focused, and steps out of sync. He stopped and used his hand to steady himself.
Nue stood, waiting for him to see her in the dim light.
“Lights,” Rannn said, and the cabin illuminated. That’s when his eyes stopped on her. “Nue? What are you…?” Then he stopped talking and tried to stand up taller. “Oh. I just need to use the cleaner. I’ll be out in a minute.”
Rannn’s steps were slower than usual. At first, she wondered if he was tired or hurt. Not that she cared, the jerk was sending her back to Debsa the first chance he got. But a conflicting part of her didn’t like seeing him in pain.
“Is the mission over?” she asked.
He stopped moving and took a few breaths before answering. “Yes. Fynbar is dead.”
Fynbar was the mission? Who was Fynbar? She’d thought Rannn had said they were rescuing Sci’s brother.
Rannn entered the cleaner, and she heard the water turn on.
Sitting back down, she let the reality of the moment sink in. The mission was over, and she was going to die. No one like her lasted on a prison planet. She had heard the rumors.
There was no way she would survive.
She had to find a way to escape. With Rannn in the cleaner, maybe the cabin door was unlocked.
Jetting from the bed, she rushed to the door, but it didn’t open. The security was still on.
Stomping back to the bed, she tried to think of something else to free herself. Anything. She sat for a long time before she realized that Rannn was still in the cleaner. Chuffing, she assumed that he had to take a post-battle dump or something.
After a half-hour, she started to get irritated—and curious.
She left the bed and knocked on the cleaner’s doorframe. “Rannn? You fall down or something?”
Why did she care?
I don’t, she reminded herself.
He didn’t answer, so she opened the cleaner and saw Rannn’s back. He was fully dressed, standing in front of the shower. The water was running, and he hadn’t removed a single item of dirty clothing.
When he turned around, she saw something terrifying.
No recognition at all.
“Get out,” he said angrily.
Nue backed up and let the door shut. Whatever was wrong with him was no small thing. And she didn’t have the education or the ability to fix whatever had broken inside him.
Though, again, not that she cared.
The water ran for over an hour. When Rannn came out, he wore new clothes, and his hair was clean and dry. The air in the cabin felt thin, and even though they were feet apart, she couldn’t help but want to back up as far as she could.
As if something terrible had happened. Something that would affect her as soon as he told her. She didn’t want to talk to him, but she needed to know. Was this the end? Had they lost the battle despite what he’d said? Did they lose Yon, Pax, or Ansel? She knew Rannn cared about them.
“Did anyone not make it?”
Rannn stopped and looked at her. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Then she watched as his blue eyes lost focus and faded.
What did that look mean?
Did he lose them? Everyone?
Nue liked Lita.
“Who died?” she asked, moving to the forward part of the bed. Her chest constricted, worried that it was one of the females.
“All of them.”
“What?” She covered her mouth, her stomach churning. “Lita’s dead? Sands? Everyone?”
Rannn blinked, and his eyes lost their dullness. “What?”
“They all died? Lita? Sands? Yon? Yelena?”
“No,” he snapped. “They’re all alive. Why would you say that?”
“You just said so.” She slapped the bed.
Did he not remember?
“I didn’t say that,” he said, taking a step back. “I wouldn’t have.” He scratched his face and looked at the door, confused.
Nue held her breath, tensing at the unease coming off Rannn in waves. Had she just witnessed Rannn having an episode or something? Yes. Yes, she had, because he did say those things. And then he immediately forgot.
Rannn frowned. “We’re going to need a flight path home after Ansel heals all the slaves.”
“How long will that take?”
He looked at her again, confused. “What?”
“What?” He shook his head and then said, “I need you to prepare a flight home as soon as the people are healed. They’re still gathering them from the planet. I will come back and get you when it’s time.”
Before she could respond, he walked out.
When he left, Nue worried that Rannn was more broken than she’d first figured. He was clearly having blackouts or fugues of some kind. It was a sad thing for him…but for her, it was an opportunity.
When they got back on the Garna, she could easily slip off the ship. Rannn would be too lost in his broken mind. It was perfect. It would also ensure that she didn’t die a horrible, painful death.
At least, not yet.